Dr Maria Fernanda Escobar
Leader of Telemedicine
Hospital Universitario Fundación Valle del Lili
The World Health Assembly Resolution on Digital Health, approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) members in May 2018, recognised the value of digital technologies to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, Dra Escobar asked attendees: How does this align with the reality of using telemedicine in low and middle income nations?
Citing recent research undertaken and published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics, Dr Escobar showed that telemedicine solutions had made a real and valued difference to patients in Colombia. She was able to show that investment in telemedicine solutions should address a health need, not duplicate existing digital tools or systems, be appropriate to local context, and account for long-term health costs, as per the directives of the World Health Organization. “Telemedicine has made a real positive difference to healthcare provision in Colombia during the pandemic,” she told ITIC attendees. Sharing details about the telehealth services provided by Hospital Universitario Fundacion Valle del Lili, Dr Escobar explained that with bilingual teams covering 62 specialities, user satisfaction was shown to be very high.
When it comes to the international market for telehealth consultations, Dr Escobar highlighted the importance of these kinds of interventions for patients suffering from mental health problems – especially in this second phase of the pandemic, where the longer-term effects of the pandemic on peoples’ mental health is becoming clearer. “This kind of support is not always easy to access in Latin America,” pointed out Dra Escobar, “meaning that telehealth solutions could be the answer to the problem in easing access to care for the general population, both in terms of cost and location.”
Moving onto the use of telemedicine in the emergency room, it was shown that over 5,000 patients were seen via telehealth platforms, with just a five per cent readmission rate and zero mortality. “The programme prevented the emergency room in the hospital from collapsing,” she told ITIC attendees.
Dr Escobar then went on to show which telehealth platform Hospital Universitario Fundación Valle del Lili was using, and the network of hospitals using it – in total, there were 85 hospitals involved, 10 with telehealth capabilities, which have enabled over 1,150 patients to access the care they need via telehealth solutions. Having this network eases the issue of availability of specialist doctors or acute care centres in remote or rural areas, where a lack of access to medical transport solutions as well also impacts care provision. Noting the most pertinent health issues the healthcare community is trying to solve, Dra Escobar pointed to maternal mortality problems in Colombia, and the fact that the telecare and telemedicine network has meant that more than 85 hospitals are working together, more than 3,000 health workers have been trained, and there have been zero maternal deaths in the hospitals involved in the programme since the healthcare staff have been trained.
Dr Escobar concluded by showing that ‘although the world has come to understand and embrace the potential of telemedicine to provide safe, timely and less expensive care, insurance companies have been slower to adopt such technology’.
although the world has come to understand and embrace the potential of telemedicine to provide safe, timely and less expensive care, insurance companies have been slower to adopt such technology
Dr Salvador Belilty
Logimedex Health Control and Risks Management
Dr Belilty discussed the new opportunities for healthcare development that have resulted from blockchain and artificial intelligence. Beginning with an introduction to blockchain, Dr Belilty explained that although it is not regulated by a person or authority, it gives users transparency, tracking and security. “You can share information with other people without sharing it with institutions,” he pointed out. For international payment transfers, blockchain can make life a great deal simpler.
Moving onto the use of blockchain in the healthcare sector, Dr Belilty pointed out its benefits in data protection for the patient, who is in control of their own medical records; medication and stock control accuracy; the potential for decentralised information management, and inter-institutional networks – as long as the hospitals use that blockchain network, they can be granted access to that patient’s information. The positive changes that could result from the use of blockchain include tracking counterfeit medical production and distribution, smart contracts that give certain people involved in the healthcare chain access to the part of the record they need, rather than all of it, and a guarantee of adherence to international data protection standards.
“Of course,” he continued, “there must always be pros and cons to any product, and the same is true for blockchain. Who has the ‘key’ to the data/money is one issue, and the other is that there is no right to be forgotten as there would be under previous methods of transactions.”
Artificial intelligence was defined by Dr Belilty as ‘the intelligence and self-learning expressed by machines, their processors and softwares that could be considered analogous to the body’.Will it take over the world, or will it improve the capabilities of humans, asked Dr Belilty. “Its main benefits lie in a tamper-proof security system and the ability to identify high-risk patients via their history, along with medication development, assisted diagnostics and robotic surgery,” explained Dr Belilty. “How it changes a physician’s responsibilities and liabilities, though, has yet to be determined.”